What is a restraining order against stalking or harassment?
A restraining order against stalking or harassment is a civil order that is issued by the Magistrate’s Court for people who are being harassed or stalked. You do not need to have a specific relationship with the person harassing or stalking you – it can be a neighbor, co-worker, acquaintance, etc.
The restraining order against stalking or harassment can order the defendant to not:
- abuse, threaten, or bother (“molest”) you or your family members;
- enter or attempt to enter your home, workplace, school, or other location; and
- communicate or attempt to communicate with you.1
1 S.C. Code § 16-3-1770(B)
What are the legal definitions of "stalking" and "harassment?"
Harassment is a pattern of intentional, substantial, and unreasonable intrusions into your private life that serve no legitimate purpose and would cause a “reasonable person” to suffer mental or emotional distress. Harassment may include, but is not limited to:
1. following you;
2. verbal, written, or electronic contact that is initiated, maintained, or repeated and causes you mental distress;
3. visual or physical contact that takes place after you have told the person not to contact you or after you filed an incident report with the police;
4. staying around or doing surveillance of your home, workplace, school, or other place you regularly go; or
5. vandalism and property damage.1
Stalking is a pattern of words or conduct that serves no legitimate purpose and is intended to cause, and does reasonably cause, you to fear that you or your family member will be:
4. criminally sexually abused;
5. kidnapped; or
6. subjected to property damage.2
Note: A “pattern” means two or more acts; “family member” means your spouse, child, parent, sibling, or a person who regularly lives in the same household with you.3
1 S.C. Code § 16-3-1700(A), (B)
2 S.C. Code § 16-3-1700(C)
3 S.C. Code § 16-3-1700(D), (E)
What types of restraining orders against stalking or harassment are there? How long do they last?
There are two types of orders: the emergency temporary order and the final extended order.
Within twenty-four hours after you file for the restraining order, the judge can hold an emergency hearing. If at that hearing, the judge believes your allegations, the judge can issue a temporary ex parte restraining order without first informing the defendant, which usually lasts for around 15 days. Then this temporary restraining order would be served upon the defendant along with what is called a “Rule to Show Cause.” The Rule to Show Cause must provide the date and time of the hearing where the defendant would have to appear to convince the judge that a final order should not be granted. The final order would last for at least one year. The judge will decide the exact length of the order on a case-by-case basis.1
If the judge does not give you the temporary order, the judge can still set a date for a hearing to decide if you will get the final order. This hearing will generally take place within fifteen days of the date that you file for the order.2
1 S.C. Code §§ 16-3-1760(A), (B), (D); 16-3-1750(E)
2 S.C. Code § 16-3-1760(C), (D)
If the abuser lives in a different state, can I still get an order against him/her?
When you and the abuser live in different states, the judge may not have “personal jurisdiction” (power) over an out-of-state abuser. This means that the court may not be able to grant an order against him/her.
There are a few ways that a court can have personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state abuser:
- The abuser has a substantial connection to your state. Perhaps the abuser regularly travels to your state to visit you, for business, to see extended family, or the abuser lived in your state and recently fled.
- One of the acts of abuse “happened” in your state. Perhaps the abuser sends you threatening texts or harassing phone calls from another state but you read the messages or answer the calls while you are in your state. The judge could decide that the abuse “happened” to you while you were in your state. It may also be possible that the abuser was in your state when s/he abused you s/he but has since left the state.
- If you file your petition and the abuser gets served with the court petition while s/he is in your state, this is another way for the court to get jurisdiction.
However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, you may be granted an order on consent or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.
You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.
Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the abuser lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the abuser’s state is far away.